Thursday, February 16, 2012

Advice to the Class of 2012

I remember many moons ago in the summer of 1981, fresh out of college, living in Houston, Texas. I graduated with my Bachelors degree in May and two months later I moved from northeast Ohio to Houston. To get a job. Northeast Ohio was going through a very hard and deep recession, and my guidance counselor had one word of advice: Leave. I was 22 years old, very full and very sure of myself. I was ready to unleash my awesomeness on the world.

So I went to Boomtown. I was there for maybe two weeks, when I read an article from Lynn Ashby, a columnist for The Houston Chronicle. Somewhere I still have it – it was titled, ‘To The Class of 1981: We Don’t Need You.’


That really pissed me off. Don’t need me? How DARE you! You obviously do not know who I am!

Yeah. They knew exactly who I was. Mr. Ashby’s point was, we are doing quite fine, thank you, and do not expect to wow us with your presence. Part of that was a Texas attitude thing as they were facing thousands of transplants (like me) invading their city with the idea that we were gonna show them how things were done. It was his reminder that they didn’t need saving, and certainly not from some 22-year old punk with a freshly minted Business degree from a state college in Ohio.

Now, Mr. Ashby stated his view rather inartfully, but there was an underlying truth to it. And it is a piece of advice that now, over thirty years later, I am ready to pass on to the next crop of college graduates. It is this:

We are doing quite fine, thank you.

That is not to say we don’t need you. We do. We need you to do the crap work we had to do when we had no real-world relevance. But that is just the way things are. We are not impressed with college degrees with the only relevant experience attached to it was as a lab assistant in your Psych 101 class. College is not real life. And many would say college does a poor job for preparation of real life. I agree. Because that’s not college’s job. Their job is to educate you, but you still have to learn how to wash whites separately, eat on $25 a week, and learn your place in the work arena.

And that place is the bottom of the totem pole. Where we once were.

Grads, there’s no shortcut. No secret handshake that, once learned, gets you a corner office and an executive assistant. You are not going to make six figures by your second year of gracing yourself with your presence. We may, if we like you and the job you do, decide to keep you around for awhile.

We need the comedic relief anyway.

You can also dispense with sucking up to the boss, because he (or she) is very ‘hep to that. Because we did that too. Want to impress the boss? Work until 8pm a few nights to beat a deadline by three days. Forego a Saturday afternoon of beer pong and log some desk time so you can have that proposal sitting on her desk when she comes in Monday morning. Ask coworkers if they need help on a project. Make yourself invaluable though hard work and being there. You will get noticed. Even when you think you’re not…because people are watching you. So make sure you’re being watched for the right reasons.

Don’t want to do that? Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.

Some will say that’s harsh. Yes it is. But that’s business, and business is harsh.

So just remember – we’ve been here a while and, more importantly, have been where you are (or about to be). But also remember this – It’s not personal. We like you. You remind us of what we once were. So realize that you do not possess anything we do not already have other than youthful hubris. You represent fresh blood, an (hopefully) open mind, and lots of energy ready to be exploited. That’s what you bring to the work arena.

But Lynn Ashby was right.

We don’t need you.

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